From Iceland — Time, Water and Viruses: Andri Snær Magnason Talks Translation, The Pandemic And The "Apausalypse"

Time, Water and Viruses: Andri Snær Magnason Talks Translation, The Pandemic And The “Apausalypse”
Valur Grettisson
Photo by
Anna Maggý

“COVID-19 has almost suffocated the discussions surrounding global warming, but perhaps that’s the distraction that’s needed to change the course of all of the oil ships in the world,” writer Andri Snær Magnason states. His celebrated book ‘On Time And Water’ just came out in English and 26 other languages in August, and it’s already rattled up the conversation surrounding global warming in Italy, where the virus hit very hard.

Voice of reason

It’s safe to say that Andri Snær is Iceland’s foremost thinker when it comes to environmental issues. His 2006 book, ‘Draumalandið: Sjálfshjálparbók fyrir hrædda þjóð,’ in English ‘Dreamland: A Self-Help Manual for a Frightened Nation’ criticised the industrial path that Icelandic government was on. It was sparked by the construction of the notorious Kárahnjúkavirkjun in the east of Iceland, and was an important thinkpiece for Icelanders, who were already considering their future in a country so rich in natural resources.

In short, the nation took the book to heart, and Andri subsequently became an influential voice on environmental issues in Iceland. The government though, well, just kind of kept on doing what it was doing. But as time went on, things slowly changed, and it’s safe to say that Icelanders will not repeat massive constructions such as the aforementioned dam.

Andri Snær. Photo by Anna Maggý

No silver bullets

‘On Time And Water’ is similar to ‘Dreamland.’ It’s also about nature, but now, it’s the whole world that is at risk, not just Iceland. The book is also deeply personal—in it, Andri Snær weaves together his own life and his own experiences into the larger overarching problem of climate change.

“Scientists have said for decades that we need to slow down and change our course, but this was never possible, even flat out unthinkable, but here we are.”

The book doesn’t hand you down a silver bullet for the problem. That said, it also doesn’t frighten you into a massive panic attack like many other materials about the subject. Instead, it offers a way of thinking and context that only art can give. The book connects time, the future, the past and the present because surprisingly, how we perceive time might be more important to solve this problem than we realised.

As an Icelander talking to an Icelander, the author of this article can’t help but to ask the response the world has had to book—a very Icelandic trait, I must admit. Andri Snær explains that reviews have been positive, and points out, for example, a review in the Economist that described ‘On Time and Water’ as part-memoir and part-scientific analysis. He says that in Italy there have been very lively discussions in the media about the book, which has sparked articles in the biggest newspapers in the country.

Andri Snær. Photo by Anna Maggý


Andri Snær emphasises though that we must integrate the dreadful COVID-19 pandemic when looking at climate change. “COVID-19 has forced us to reduce the release of greenhouse gases, our traffic, as well as consumption,” he explains. “I wrote an article about it that I titled ‘Apausalypse’—the pause of the word. The word ‘apocalypse’ in Greek really means exposé. And COVID has exposed how defenceless we are, the weakness in our infrastructure, the unequal division in the world—but also how much humankind can have a strong influence, even when we think we are not doing anything.“

This, of course, connects back to global warming. While we used to think there was no way to change our route—to reduce our emissions drastically—the results of this virus prove that what we previously thought was impossible but a year ago, is indeed possible. The virus is and will remain, part of our global ecosystem—part of climate change in general.

Andri explains that some people believe that the deeper we head into the forest—i.e. deforestation and ecosystem degradation—the more likely we will contract new viruses.

“Tropical diseases will come to the Nordic parts of the world,“ Andri continues. “COVID puts the discussion surrounding global warming into a new context. Scientists have said for decades that we need to slow down and change our course, but this was never possible, even flat out unthinkable, but here we are.”

Pick up Andri Snær’s ‘On Time And Water’ book in English here

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